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Closing arguments in Trump’s NY civil fraud trial

Former US president Donald Trump in New York State Supreme Court during the civil fraud trial against the Trump Organization, in New York City on January 11, 2024
Former US president Donald Trump in New York State Supreme Court during the civil fraud trial against the Trump Organization, in New York City on January 11, 2024 - Copyright POOL/AFP Seth Wenig
Former US president Donald Trump in New York State Supreme Court during the civil fraud trial against the Trump Organization, in New York City on January 11, 2024 - Copyright POOL/AFP Seth Wenig
Gregory WALTON

Donald Trump’s lawyer delivered closing arguments Thursday in a New York civil fraud case that the ex-president called “political interference” after the judge barred him from using the trial finale as an election grandstand.

Prosecutors are demanding $370 million from Trump over fraud allegations — and to bar him from conducting business in the state where he made his name as a celebrity real estate tycoon.

The trial is one of multiple criminal and civil cases Trump faces, ranging from a rape allegation to conspiring to overturn the 2020 election result.

The Republican is seeking to paint himself as the victim of a “witch hunt” designed to prevent his return to the White House in this November’s election.

It’s “political interference,” Trump told reporters on arrival at the courthouse. “It’s election interference at the highest level.”

He had sought to deliver the closing arguments himself, but permission was denied when he failed to sign off on restrictions aimed at stopping him from using the courtroom as an electioneering platform.

Trump, the judge ordered, could not “deliver a campaign speech” or “impugn” the court or those working there.

Trump responded Thursday, telling reporters it was a “very unfair trial.”

The former president is accused of fraudulently inflating the value of his properties, with New York Attorney General Letitia James seeking the $370 million over “unlawful profits,” her office said in a filing.

“The myriad deceptive schemes they employed to inflate asset values and conceal facts were so outrageous that they belie innocent explanation,” it said Friday.

– Mar-a-Lago –

In one example given to the court, James’s team allege Trump valued Mar-a-Lago, his exclusive Florida club, using “asking prices for neighboring homes, although they knew actual sales prices were the correct comparison.”

“From 2011-2015 defendants added a 30 percent premium because the property was a ‘completed (commercial) facility,'” the filing said.

Trump’s lawyer Chris Kise said that “there is no clear and present evidence establishing intent by Donald Trump.”

“Their case doesn’t make common sense,” he said.

Kise acknowledged there could be errors in Trump’s corporate financial statements but none “lead to the conclusion there was fraud.”

Judge Arthur Engoron interrupted Kise several times to contradict him.

A news helicopter hovered over the packed court and a small group of anti-Trump protesters gathered outside, chanting “no dictators in the USA.”

The amount to be paid will be revealed in the judge’s final order, for which no date has been confirmed.

As the case is civil rather than criminal, there is no threat of jail time.

Trump repeatedly took to social media during the case, saying it was “decided against me before it even started.”

In one post on his Truth Social platform, he lashed out at James, calling her “totally corrupt” and saying “I did nothing wrong.”

Trump has not been required to attend the trial, but he has shown up sporadically, attracting intense media coverage and using the limelight to deny any wrongdoing, while often also crudely insulting James and others in the court. 

– Court, or ‘campaign event’? –

“The judge reasonably concluded that Trump would have converted the opportunity to make a closing argument into more attacks on the court system and the attorney general, while perverting the closing argument into a campaign event,” said University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias.

The civil fraud trial is one of several legal battles facing Trump as he seeks to recapture the presidency.

He is set to go on trial in Washington in March for conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and in Florida in May on charges of mishandling secret government documents.

The twice-impeached former president also faces racketeering charges in Georgia for allegedly conspiring to upend the election results in the southern state after his 2020 defeat by Democrat Joe Biden.

Trump is appealing a ruling by Colorado’s highest court that would keep him off the presidential primary ballot in the state because of his role in the January 6, 2021 Capitol riots by his supporters.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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